“What are you doing up there?”
I have no idea, Maggie thought to herself, contemplating her mother’s question.
“I’m going through some old pictures,” she finally responded. “I think it’s time to purge.”
“Hooray,” came the reply from the bottom of the ladder. “Two years is too long.”
Maggie’s mom was right. It had been two years since she had shown up on her parent’s doorstep, mascara smeared around her eyes. Thanks to her best friend, her marriage had ended in an instant. Her husband didn’t even have the courtesy to rent a hotel room for his tryst. The moment Maggie walked into her bedroom, she had lost her marriage, her best friend, and her dreams. To add insult to injury, her husband, showing no remorse, had thrown all of her pictures into an old cardboard box and left it on the front porch without an explanation or an apology.
Her father, ignoring Maggie's request to throw them out, retrieved the box, loading it into his car and bringing it home.
“What are you doing, Dad?” Maggie asked, catching her father taking the box to the attic.
“These memories will keep, Magpie. There will be a time for them, but it isn’t now.” Maggie's father was right, as usual, when it came to protecting his only daughter.
Maggie’s first foray into the attic happened nearly a year after her break-up. It didn’t go well or last long.
“Right on top, can you believe it?” Maggie asked her friend Natalie later that night, armed with a glass of liquid courage. “He put the wedding pictures right on top.”
“This too shall pass, sweetie,” Natalie replied. “You’re the strongest woman I know—screw him!”
All of her other friends were supportive publicly, but Maggie heard the whispers. It was as if no one believed she would be able to survive her heartbreak, not even Maggie. Maggie was supposed to be married.
From the time she was six years old, Maggie knew she wanted to be a wife. “Daddy, look at me,” the young girl had squealed as she walked slowly into the room, dressed in white. “I’m getting married today. Aren’t I beautiful?”
“You are a princess, Magpie,” her father responded, picking up his daughter in his arms.
“Daddy, you’re crushing my veil!”
“I’m so sorry,” her father replied, setting his daughter down.
To the casual observer, Maggie’s veil was just a white tee-shirt and the dress a towel wrapped around her waist—but not to Maggie, not today. Today the mismatched garments were the most beautiful wedding ensemble ever.
Ten years later, now sixteen, Maggie met her first love, Frederick Deese. Freddy, as Maggie like to call him, was the boy next door and he was smitten with with his pretty neighbor. He would take Maggie on long walks, singing poorly and reciting borrowed poetry, but Maggie loved every minute.
“How do I love thee?” Freddy queried, standing tall to impress Maggie.
“Well, that’s original, Mrs. Browning,” she responded, turning away to hide her smile.
Maggie was as taken with Freddy as he was with her. They spent one glorious summer discovering everything about each other and love. They had hugged and held hands, but as the summer came to an end, they had yet to kiss. Maggie hoped that was about to change when she got the note. Freddy often left short messages for Maggie and this was was as simple as the came.
Meet me at our tree,
Maggie knew the place instantly. She and Freddy had found the spot on a walk earlier that summer. The oak tree stood at the edge of a secluded lake. If they were there at the right time, it offered a romantic view of the sunset. Maggie had wanted Freddy to kiss her for two months. That night, under the tree, next to the lake, he finally did. The experience didn’t disappoint. Her toes curled and her face became flushed.
“I love you, Frederick Deese,” Maggie exclaimed without contemplating the consequences. “I love you with all my heart.”
“I love you too, Maggie but—” Freddy replied, followed by silence.
Up until that moment, the evening had been perfect, however perfection was interrupted by a single word.
“But?" Maggie asked as she took a step back. “But, what?”
“I’m moving,” Freddy answered, his eyes welling with tears. “It’s my dad, he got his orders. We’re moving to Japan.”
“In two weeks.”
The news left Maggie gasping for air. She had allowed herself to imagine forever and now forever was reduced to just fourteen days.
The Saturday Freddy moved, Maggie was inconsolable. She was also undeterred. She would find love again—Maggie was sure of it.
In retrospect she never did, not really. Though Maggie liked Vincent, enough to say yes when he proposed, there was never a time where he caused her heart to flutter as it had when she first kissed Freddy.
“I’m headed back up to the attic,” Maggie announced as she pulled down the ladder from the ceiling.
“Are you sure, Magpie? Do you need help?”
Maggie shook her head and smiled. It was time to make peace with the past.
The first picture she pulled out was a close up of the rings, freshly placed on the bride and groom’s hands. The 24-karat gold band was a rotted reminder of a union never meant to be.
Determined, Maggie pushed past the photos from the wedding to the days before she had met Vincent. Memories from her trips to Disneyland and The Grand Ole Opry. Photos of her parents as newlyweds. The more she dug through the photos, the more she felt a thaw in what had become a very cold heart. For two years Maggie had hidden herself away, keeping her emotions in check, never opening herself up to be hurt. Now, these same photos she had dreaded for so long were becoming the nutrients that would allow her heart to grow once again.
At the bottom of the pile, Maggie found something out of place. Hidden from sight by all the photos, Maggie’s hand grasped an envelope. It was still sealed. On the front she read: Just in case.
“Dad, do you know anything about this?” Maggie asked, as she navigated her way back down the ladder.
“You found that, huh?" her dad responded with a grin, "I put it at the bottom, figuring you would find it when you were ready.”
“What is it? Where did it come from?”
“It’s from an old friend of yours.”
“From who?” Maggie asked, even though she recognized the handwriting.
“Open it and find out.”
Maggie tore open the envelope and pulled out the card.
I wish you nothing but the best as you start your new life but, if you change your mind, let me know.
Just below the note, Frederick listed his phone number.
“Dad, it’s from Freddy!”
“I know, Magpie,” her dad said, as he smiled and handed her his phone.